Melinda Gates: The best investment America can make  4/20/2017 7:16:29 PM  10  Melinda Gates
On GPS: A foreign aid debate
  • Melinda Gates: Trump administration proposes cuts to foreign aid that has headed off epidemics, made US more secure
  • She says the money the US spends on foreign aid is a key long-term investment in Americans themselves

(CNN)One of the first lessons we learned when we started our foundation was a humbling one: Our resources are only a drop in the bucket compared with the needs around the world, and only a small percentage of what governments spend each year to help meet those needs.

Melinda Gates

That's why I spend a lot of my time visiting government officials all over the world to talk about how we can work together to leverage other donors, and encourage developed and developing countries to drive progress against poverty, disease and inequality.

And it is why I am deeply concerned about the White House announcement that its budget proposal includes cuts to US foreign aid that would threaten the very progress so many are working so hard to achieve.

The data tells us that in a single generation, funding from the United States and other donor nations has helped turn the tide against infectious diseases like polio and HIV/AIDS, while driving a child survival revolution that has saved 122 million children's lives. The world has cut extreme poverty in half and set the stage for more people everywhere to live longer, better, healthier lives than ever.

Still, after more than a decade and a half running our foundation, I am deeply aware that budgeting finite resources always requires difficult decisions — so I understand why some Americans ask why US taxpayer dollars should go overseas when there is so much need within our own borders. The facts are this: Less than 1% of the US federal budget goes to aid, and the dollars spent abroad reap dividends for our country, too.

That's why, when the White House first announced these cuts, some of the loudest voices of protest came not from overseas, but here at home. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, retired US military leaders, and faith leaders all spoke up in defense of foreign aid, arguing it is not just the right thing to do — it's also vital to protecting American interests. The money we spend on foreign aid is a long-term investment in Americans themselves.

These are the things I have in mind this week as I represent the foundation in conversations in Washington.

When the United States invests in strengthening health systems abroad, it also makes deadly epidemics less likely to land on our shores. As devastating as the Ebola epidemic was, the death toll would have been even more catastrophic if the disease had not been contained in Nigeria, a global crossroads.

Fortunately, this time, there were already health workers on the ground who could be swiftly mobilized to prevent the disease from spreading, health workers funded by foreign aid. By cutting that aid, we take the risk that when the next epidemic strikes, there will be no one there to hold it back.

Investing in global health and development also helps keep Americans safe. When people in the world's poorest places have the chance to support their families and contribute to their communities, they are less likely to resort to violence. To cite just one example, countries that received aid under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, an initiative started under President George W. Bush, have seen greater progress toward reducing political instability. Stability abroad increases security at home.

What's more, by helping countries lift themselves out of poverty, we also create markets for US products. Eleven of the top 15 purchasers of US goods are former aid recipients, as are 43 of the top 50 consumer nations of American agricultural products. Far from locking countries in cycles of dependency, smart aid investments actually help countries unlock virtuous cycles of growth.

Another US investment that yields enormous returns for the global economy is contraceptives. When women have access to the tools they need to plan and space their pregnancies, the results are transformative for societies.

Smaller families mean women are better able to work outside the home — and that families are able to devote more resources to the health care, nutrition and education of each of their children, improving the prospects of the workforce of tomorrow. Contraceptives are simply one of the best antipoverty initiatives the world has ever seen.

We've seen that progress is possible, but we also know it's not inevitable. If the United States goes forward with these cuts to foreign aid, it will leave a gap in the world's moral leadership and reduce our country's standing among nations. It will mean that millions of people — including millions of children — will die preventable deaths on our watch.

More men and women will be driven by desperation toward dangerous extremism, and more people in the world's poorest places will live and die trapped in poverty.

For all these reasons, I will spend my time in D.C. this week making the case that if we care about keeping America healthy, safe and prosperous, then we must prioritize foreign aid. The cost of these cuts is far too great for our country — or our conscience — to bear.

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